China places limits on after-school tutoring to reduce heavy workload on kids
China has recently announced what’s billed as the sternest measures to regulate the country’s after-school tutoring sector, which has witnessed rampant growth since the Chinese government required public schools to reduce student’s workload in the late 1990s. But observers doubt closer supervision of tutoring centers will help alleviate the burdens of the students, if exam remains the main appraisal method.

On August 22, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a guideline, according to which all after-school tutoring centers are not allowed to offer courses “for the purpose of passing an exam, ahead of or beyond public schools’ teaching syllabus”. Instead, the guideline calls for development of courses that aim to foster hobbies, innovation spirit and practical abilities.

The latest guideline apparently highlights the government’s decisiveness in reducing homework load of school kids, which is seen as impairing young kids’ physical and psychological well-being. In some extreme cases, school-related workload is believed to have led to the suicides., a Chinese news portal, cited official data that showed that China has had the highest rate of child suicides for years. “In China, around 100,000 teenagers commit suicide every year, with 45.5 percent of the cases found to be related to academic stress.”

Even if the mounting pressure may not always be deadly, it definitely inflicts harm on the young kids.

In China’s first and second-tier cities, many kids started to attend after-school tutoring centers since kindergarten, a survey shows. On average, one kid needs to have two or three courses per week, and in some cases, an elementary child could have nine classes designed after school each week. Mounting tasks leave lots of children sleep-deprived. In Shanghai, a sleep questionnaire targeting school kids found that less than 20 percent of children in the city are having enough sleep per day.

Worrying the trend may overshadow the younger generations, in the late 1990s, the Chinese government started to take actions and has been repeatedly emphasizing the work’s significance by rolling out new policies, “but till now, all the previous measures are not as effective as expected,” said Xiong Bingqi, the vice principal of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

In January 2000, the Ministry of Education released an “emergency notification” toward all public schools nationwide, requiring them to alleviate student’s burdens. That’s when the government policy first garnered nationwide attention and the year 2000 was hailed by industry analysts as the year of “happy education”.

With all public schools being demanded to reduce homework and classes, lots of their work was channeled to after-school tutors, helping prop up the industry that burdens parents with high-surging tutoring fees. Although students may have less classes and homework at school, they are now spending more time at various after-school training institutions.

Tomorrow Advancing Life (TAL) Education Group, one of the biggest after-school tutoring companies in the country more well-known as Xue Er Si registered dramatic growth over the past years. Based on its annual reports, the market value of Xue Er Si has multiplied ten times over the past three years. From 2013 to 2017, the number of students taught by the tutoring group shot up from 820,000 to 3.93 million.

China has doubled its efforts to scrutinize after-school tutoring institutions this year. In February, the Ministry of Education, along with three other government departments, announced to create a blacklist of unsafe or poorly operated after-school training centers for primary and middle school students by mid-2019. It’s widely reported by Chinese media that local governments across the country began to crack down on unruly after-school tutoring centers earlier this year.

On the other hand, the campaign is resented by Chinese parents, who’re now busy “colluding with” the tutors to move classrooms to secluded venues to avoid surprise inspections.

During the “Two Sessions” period when lawmakers once again proposed to “alleviate student’s burdens,” they met with unexpectedly strong repercussion on social media. Several articles addressing the topic got widely circulated, with titles like “Don’t ‘Relieve Burden’ on My Child” and “The ‘Easing Burden’ Policy Only Makes Poor People More Poor”.

“The problems behind the after-school tutoring are imbalanced educational resources and exam-focused school entrance system,” Xiong Bingqi said, noting if the problems remain, the heavy burden on young kids could hardly be eased.

He suggested a more diversified and customized teaching system to meet the demands of young kids with different personalities and talents, instead of merely reducing classes or homework load.  


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